Nuts: Growing and Cooking

Jane McMorland Hunter and Sally Hughes, Nuts: Growing and Cooking

August 2017, Prospect Books £9.99

Nuts are part of our everyday life and language. A tricky problem is ‘a hard nut to crack’, a well-put argument captures the situation ‘in a nutshell’, people ‘go nuts’ or use a ‘sledgehammer to crack a nut’.

Hazels have been grown in Britain since prehistoric time but walnuts, almonds and sweet chestnuts have exotic origins further afield. The western lands of Asia Minor, the forests that cover the lower mountain slopes and valleys of Turkestan and possibly even China are ‘home’ for these trees. The Romans cultivated them and almost certainly brought them to Britain.

Almonds were regarded as a sign of resurrection in Biblical lands, with sugared almonds ensuring good luck at New Year. Since Roman times walnuts, the most noble of all nuts, have been thrown at wedding ceremonies as symbols of fertility. Hazels were believed to ward off evil, as well as being used for everything from basket-making to road-building. Land was measured by how much mast it produced and right up to the First World War English school children were given a day off on Holy Cross day in September in order to go nutting.

They are a nutritious food source, enjoyed by Native Americans, Aborigines and foragers worldwide. Health wise nuts are not so much a super as a wonder food but they are also treats: sticky rose scented baklava, chewy almond nougat and bags of sizzling, hot chestnuts brought from a street stall at Christmas. Nuts are an essential ingredient in every cuisine and this book includes over seventy recipes from a spiced pecan and pumpkin salad to a Norwegian birthday spectacular.

Nut trees are some of the most beautiful and rewarding fruit trees you can grow. Bushy coppices of hazels, towering sweet chestnuts, majestic walnuts and breathtakingly lovely almonds are within the reach of many gardeners. There are even nuts you can grow and harvest within a year. Compact and quicker-maturing varieties mean that planting a nut tree need not just benefit the next generation and increasingly milder weather means harvests are more reliable. Certainly you can buy nuts easily, but, like almost everything, those you produce yourself taste that much better.

A strict botanical definition of nuts is tricky excluding as it does peanuts and pistachios. However we feel that if cooks and gardeners think of something as a nut so will we, so we have included the full range from Brazils to pecans, hazels to acorns. Where it tastes good we have included recipes and if you can grow it or forage it in Britain or the temperate United States or Europe we have provided planting and hunting advice.

We would obviously love you to buy our book. We would love it even more if you bought it from your local bookshop, you might miss it if it goes.